ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan's government has formally rejected and outlawed a plan, advocated by an American businessman, to privatize the 17-year-old war in the country, effectively ending a heated debate on the issue.
Erik Prince promoted his proposal on Kabul television as recently as last week for the government to allow foreign contractors to support Afghan forces in the fight against the Taliban, claiming it could end the war in “six months.”
Prince’s latest assertions triggered suspicions in local media that after of recent battlefield setbacks, President Ashraf Ghani’s administration was tacitly backing the renewed debate.
But in an official statement, National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib said Thursday, “In no manner does the government of Afghanistan condone this destructive and divisive debate.”
“Under no circumstances will the Afghan government and people allow the counterterrorism fight to become a private, for-profit business,” said Mohib.
Earlier this week in a televised speech, Ghani also indirectly referred to Prince’s idea, saying “foreign mercenaries” will not be allowed to operate in Afghanistan.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis rejected the proposal weeks ago.
Mohib said that Afghan security forces are determined to lead the anti-terrorism fight and defend the country’s territorial integrity under the framework of all applicable national laws and with the support of international allies.
“This can not and will not be outsourced to private business. We will not allow our struggle to be cheapened by the prospect of profits,” Mohib noted.
The advisor added that the addition of new “foreign and “unaccountable elements” would violate the principle that Afghans want to determine their own future.
On Tuesday, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch warned outsourcing the war “may exacerbate abuses and undermine what fragile justice systems exist.” The monitor group noted all parties to the conflict have allegedly committed war crimes and grave human rights violations, and civilian casualties have reached new highs.
“Prince’s company, Academi, formerly known as Blackwater, has been implicated in serious crimes in Iraq,” said HRW. The private company’s contractors do not report directly to the military, though they can be prosecuted for crimes in U.S. courts, it added.
“Afghanistan already has a poor track record prosecuting members of its security forces implicated in serious human rights abuses, including killing civilians. Given the impunity already enjoyed by the security forces, placing them under the command of private security contractors could further undermine accountability.”